Wildlife officials in Florida are relaunching a program in December 2022 to feed manatees in a coastal area where many congregate in the winter, part of efforts to address the aquatic mammals’ chronic malnutrition caused by the disappearance of seagrasses they feed on…A key factor for the depletion of seagrasses is poor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon, an estuary spanning 156 miles of Florida’s eastern coast that draws many manatees.
The situation highlights a broader problem with polluted waterways in Florida. Algal blooms have broken out in numerous areas in recent years, fueled by nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from improperly treated sewage, leaking septic tanks and fertilizer runoff, according to researchers. The outbreaks pose a threat to Florida’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism in coastal areas.
In 2021, mainly January to March, state and federal wildlife officials provided over 202,000 pounds of romaine lettuce, butter lettuce and cabbage to manatees gathering in warm water discharged by a power plant on the Indian River Lagoon. Many of the mammals, which typically are about 10 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds, seek refuge there when waters cool in winter.
Excerpt from Arian Campo-Flores Florida Restarts Push to Feed Manatees, WSJ, Dec. 25, 2022
Florida manatees are dying at a record pace, prompting a federal investigation and calls to relist the aquatic mammals as endangered. So far this year, 800 manatees have died in Florida, more than double the average for the same period over the past five years, according to state data. Their estimated population numbered 5,733 in 2019, the most recent year in which wildlife officials conducted a count….
At the heart of the problem is deteriorating water quality that has depleted the seagrasses that manatees eat, researchers say. It highlights a broader threat to other marine species, they say, and to Florida’s economy, which relies heavily on visitors drawn to the state’s coastline. Manatees, which typically measure about 10 feet in length and weigh more than 1,000 pounds, have faced numerous perils in recent years, including collisions with watercraft and exposure to red tide, a harmful algal bloom. Now, researchers say, they are experiencing starvation.
Excerpt from Arian Campo-Flores, Manatees Are Dying in Florida, and the U.S. Wants to Know Why, WSJ, June 23, 2021